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Domark Ltd
Arcade: Solo beat-em-up
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K

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Rachael Smith
Chris Bourne

The stench of blood in the hot sun. The roar of voices. A battle where victory means freedom from slavery... and defeat means death. Never before has a game captured the spirit of Castle Rathbone so well. Gladiator may be set in a Roman arena but the mechanics are much the same. And above all the bloodshed sits Emperor Ed, the man who can give the thumbs down to our efforts.

Domark's addition to the D.S.D. (Do Someone Damage) genre is divided, like Gaul, into three parts. First you can watch a bout or two in the arena, perhaps laying the odd bet, though you'll have to do this in pence rather than denarii because the gambling option isn't any more than a flashing message saying 'Bet Now', as far as I could see. Despite the cheeky suggestion that betting is a programmed part of the game it's a compliment that the fights appear realistic enough to make them worth watching.

Once you've lost all your change by buying Gladiators it's time to practise in the woods. Choose the two player option then leave your opponent static as you dance around him before dealing a nifty thrust with a sword. Or a spear or dagger, or throw a net, or whatever, because equipping yourself for combat from the complete classical arsenal is an important part of your preparations. Then it's back to the arena for the best of three falls and the emperor's thumb, which turns at the end of each combat.

It's an interesting addition to combat games with 25 moves available, though the pre-production copy's method of control, using two prods of the fire button for some blows, is highly unsatisfactory. While Domark promises to replace it, the alternative remains to be judged. Providing it works better than this it should give you real involvement with your fighter. I felt cheated that two player combat is not available in the arena so, in this mode you cannot win your freedom.

Perhaps not the most enduring of games, but with superb animation, it's certainly different and it gets my qualified thumbs up.